Column One: Germans revealed as laid-back funsters of Europe

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PUNCTUALITY IS no longer close to godliness for the Germans. They have cast aside this long-held aspect of their national character and are, in fact, now more relaxed about time and lateness than the French or the British.

The Teutonic efficiency that has been ridiculed by their European neighbours for years, jealous that German trains always run on time and that they are always first to bag the best spots on the beach in the morning, does not hold true for modern Germans, according to Dr Peter Collett, a psychologist from Oxford University, who has carried out research in six European countries.

His researchers discovered that today's Germans are in fact far more laid back when people are late, and are less inclined to wear a watch, or write endless "to-do" lists to make their working days more effective. The modern German has a broader definition of lateness than his or her European counterparts. Even their watches are an average two minutes late.

In fact, it is now the British who are the most uptight and strict about what constitutes tardiness, followed by the French and with the Germans trailing in a relaxed third.

The findings, presented to the British Psychological Society's London conference yesterday showed that in Britain, people showed least respect to their colleagues of equal standing and were much more likely to be late for a meeting than they would be for their boss or secretary. In Germany bosses were always the latest to any meeting.

Our Gallic neighbours, meanwhile, have long revelled in the romantic notion that time is a flexible concept and that punctuality is rather boring and mundane. Interruptions were traditionally seen as a not only acceptable but welcome interlude, as well as a sign of importance. But Dr Collett's research shows that the French are now more likely to organise their day by writing lists and have become more anxious about being late than the Germans.

The French have apparently maintained a sense of superiority, however. Although they were not more likely to be late than other Europeans, when they were, they were very, very late and did not expect to have to give an apology or explanation.

But one must sympathise most with the Eastern Europeans. The most anxious about being late are Polish, while the Czechs are keenest on having an accurate watch, which was on average only 30 seconds late. Unfortunately, they also suffered the most interruptions in their working day.